Monthly Archives: June 2012

The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "There’s Always a Diagram"

There’s Always a Diagram

That’s what my daughter and her friend say
As they talk about their co-workers
Who drive them crazy.

Friend: “It doesn’t matter what he’s talking about
He always draws the same diagram
It’s a bell curve and it illustrates everything
According to him,
Infant mortality rates or shopping patterns of
New mothers”
And she draws a bell curve on a scrap
Of paper.

At the table, we look at the bell curve as if
We have never seen one before
And nod sagely, yes, that is irritating and odd
But I’m thinking, it does apply to those situations.

Daughter: “My guy always draws a circle
And then puts little dots inside it. He says things like
‘Here’s the target population’ and draws a circle
And then peppers it with little dots,
‘And here are our inreach efforts,’ ”
And she quickly draws a circle
And jabs her pen into the paper a number of times.

As I study both diagrams, daughter and friend lapse into
A kind of disgusted silent contemplation of their lot
While I realize the coworkers they are fed up with
Are guys my age only a little obsessed with their ideas
And unsure just how to communicate them.

And so the old guys draw the same diagrams
To illustrate everything
Time after time

But looking at the two diagrams
I like them both and
I can’t decide between them.

–Dan Verner

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Advice for Writers: A Worth-While Interview and MoreProjecting Away

Before I get into my little bit about writing, I want to recommend an interview by Carol Covin (Granny Guru, author of  Who Gets to Name Grandma– online at http://grandparents.about.com/od/booksaboutgrandparenting/fr/Who-Gets-To-Name-Grandma-The-Wisdom-Of-Mothers-And-Grandmothers.htm Carol also writes on her website http://newgrandmas.com/ most notably an amazing blog entitled “New Grandmas Rock” ).

Carol interviewed Lake Ridge author Nancy Kyme (author of Memory Lake–online at http://www.nancyskyme.com/, and also available on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. If you don’t have these two ladies’ books, log off now and go to their websites or to Amazon or B&N and order yourself copies for you and all your friends).

The ostensible subject of the interview is Anne LaMott’s book on writing, Bird by Bird, but Carol and Nancy share their own insights into writing as well. They talk about the book and about their writing with charm and grace, which is much more than I can manage. It’s well worth a listen: http://recording.freeconferencecalling.com/mp3/1025268/176393/IA1205_06122012074223289_1157686.mp3.

OK, then, here’s my paltry contribution on the subject for this week:

I seem to have fallen into a number of long term projects which I have written about occasionally on these pages. One was going through my father’s household belongings and selling, giving away or keeping them. This took me from about last August to this February. In a sense, I’m not finished because I still have to integrate his tools into my tool collection and cull the duplicates. I think I presently have four caulking guns.

Then there was my attic insulation project, which ran from last August until about this April. I’m pleased to report that the upstairs is not as hot as it has been other summers so all those R values are above my head working away.

My fence project has about two sections complete with a third underway. I ran out of materials Friday and did not want to brave Home Depot on a Saturday. It waited until Monday.

My point is that a lot can be accomplished over a period of time with persistent effort. I was thinking about this in conjunction with a novel I have begun. I wrote an abysmal one-character novel in which nothing happened about twenty years ago. No one will ever see it. I wonder why I haven’t burned it. But this time, I’m already up to about ten characters and I’m writing about something I know about. What a concept!

And I know from my first attempt that it’s a matter of keeping after it day by day. Already I find myself wanting to get back to work on it when I’m working on tool organization or fence building. I suppose the writer has to be the most enthusiastic person about what he or she is writing or else no one else will care. I grew used to being the most enthusiastic person in the room about literature when I taught English in high school, so this is not a new role for me.

I was reminded by some writer friends to practice what I preached when I taught creative writing years ago: write what parts jump out at you, don’t think you have to start at the beginning and write to the end (start anywhere and jump around if you want. No one will know when it’s done) and expect to revise, revise, revise. Thanks to my friends who reminded me of these important truths. You know who you are.

As for me, I have to do some research now to make sure the details are right. What a glorious project this is!

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Technology and Society—The Land Line Phone

A while back, a list appeared on various sites entitled Nine Things That Will Disappear In Our Lifetime. Now, the definition of a lifetime would depend on the person. It might be 30 seconds for someone and 100 years for a newborn. We never know (I am such a philosopher, I know). But let’s take the figure usually used to calculate the duration of a generation, sixteen years, add a couple years for a fudge factor (which I learned to do in my college physics course, one of three science and math courses I took. Poetry courses–too many to count. And priceless) and come up with a nice round numbered year of 2030. That sounds about right for the things ont he list to have disappeared completely, if not sooner.

Here is the list:

1. The Post Office
2. The Check
3. The Paper Newspaper
4. The Paper Book
5. The Land Line Telephone
6. The Music Industry
7. Television
8. The “Things” That You Own
9. Privacy 
I want to give each of these its own separate post, and some of them are, in the words of the song, “as good as gone,” in my estimation.  Checks are one of these. I used to write 40 to 50 checks a month. Now I might write one or two. Good as gone.


One real generational difference comes with the land line telephone. I call the difference between my generation and that of my thirty-something daughters “the digital divide.” They have gone almost totally digital, reading newspapers on line, eschewing landlines in favor of cell phones and listening to digital music files. They have always known and used and been comfortable with digital devices. I’m more typical of my generation: I first used computers in school (teaching, not taking) in 1985 and have gradually learned how to use digital devices. I have several computers, an iPhone and a Nook. And yet I still keep writing ideas in a notebook, have a landline, read paper books and listen to CD’s. I haven’t made the break with the older forms of technology and probably never will.


There are also differences in how we use these technologies. Amy and Alyssa rarely answer their phones. If I want them to respond, I text them. I used to detest texting, although I have a better attitude toward it with some practice. When I asked them about their reliance on this form, they said it was less intrusive and that it was nice to have a written record of information such as an address or phone number. That makes sense to me, although there are times when only a phone call will do.

So, we’re keeping our landline with the number we’ve had for nearly 40 years. I need it for my fax, although there is probably a way I could configure that to work off the wi fi at home. And I know, faxes are hopelessly old school, but sometimes that’s the way I need to roll.

The Washington Post did an article on this very issue in 2010, using research and surveys. I prefer to pull these posts out of my ear, as faithful readers know.

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Bob Tale–Uncle Jim and Mr. Aintbroke

As my college friend Bob told his stories about Uncle Jim and his farm in rural New Jersey, it was clear that Jim’s operation was not some hobby farm, but one that grew a respectable amount of crops. Dot had her own vegetable patch and Bob said her meals were some of the best he had ever had.  It was a change from the Italian restaurant food he ate at home. Jim primarily raised corn, and so when the harvest came in, he employed several high school and college students to help gather the crops. Jim had a small John Deere combine, a big Ford tractor and a small one, and a Ford stake truck. The tractor towed a high-sided trailer into which the harvested ears fell. Once it was full, they loaded the crop onto the stake truck to take it to the co-op. Like most farmers, large and small, Jim depended on his equipment.
Of course, machines broke down and needed repair. Jim was a fair mechanic, like most farmers, and he could weld and fix most things.  But when something big went wrong, like when an engine blew or a transmission went bad, he called on his mechanic, a fellow named Sweeney. Sweeney was a big rough-looking fellow who seemed to wear the same brown overalls day after day. No one knew if Sweeney was his first name or his last:  Jim called him Mr. Sweeney, and he never said anything about it.  Sweeney never said much anyhow, but he was a genius of a mechanic who could fix anything.  His helper was a young man of indeterminate age who said even less than Sweeney did. No one was quite sure he knew how to speak.
Jim had heard about Sweeney from some other farmers in the area.  “He’s good,” they told him, “But he doesn’t like to replace anything unless it’s good and broken.” Bob said he went with Jim one time to pick up a part Sweeney had ordered for him that he couldn’t get otherwise.  The old farm he lived on had a small barn that he had converted into a garage and the wrecks of about a hundred cars covering the hillside. Bob told Jim if a Saint Bernard showed up he was leaving.
Dot had another name for Sweeney.  She called him Mr. Aintbroke or just Aintbroke because the first time Jim called him out to work on a tractor and the truck when the engines were making odd noises, Aintbroke listened to the engines and said, “Naw, that engine’s still good.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Dot handled the financial end of the farm, and she asked Jim if it wouldn’t be better to do preventative maintenance on the equipment. Jim did what he could, oil changes and lubes and so forth, but he just thought and said, “No, I’ll stay with Aintbroke. He’s good and he’s fast and charges a reasonable price.” They both took to calling him Aintbroke when he wasn’t around.
Well, the corn harvest was proceeding well with every piece of equipment going full bore. The corn picker was making an odd grinding sound, the tractor’s valves were clattering and the stake truck was belching black smoke.  They were still running, but just barely. Then it happened.  Every piece of equipment stopped, one after the other, in the space of a few minutes. Jim and his helpers stood there.  Then he went into the house to call Aintbroke.  Dot heard the machines stop suddenly and greeted him at the door.  “So, are they broken now?” she asked. Jim didn’t answer.
Aintbroke  had to replace the engines on all three machines, and it took a few days until they could be shipped to the farm. Aintbroke showed up and worked straight through, as was his custom.  He never seemed to stop, even to eat.
In the meantime, Jim was able to make do with the small tractor and the pickup truck. A neighbor loaned him a combine, and while Bob said the work was twice as hard, they got it done.  Aintbroke finished installing the new engines about the time the harvest was done. Jim and Bob and the helpers fired them up and they all roared with new power.  Aintbroke and his assistant climbed into their ancient rust-covered wrecker and drove off.
As the crew came into the house to eat, Dot greeted them. “So I guess the equipment ain’t broke any more,” she said.
Bob said Aintbroke was Jim’s mechanic through the four years of college that I knew Bob. I don’t know what happened to him after that.

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I Have Seen the Light

People who know me were  treated to my unique appearance a few weeks ago. I looked like someone who had gone two rounds with Muhammad Ali in his prime or who had suddenly gotten into radical eye makeup.  I had eyelid surgery May 11th to correct what is technically called “droopy eyelids.” As my optometrist said when I checked with her last September, “It’s no wonder you can’t see—your eyelid is drooping halfway over your pupil.” I hadn’t said much about it because I don’t think most people are interesting in the medical details of someone else’s life, but I thought sharing my experience here might be helpful to someone with a similar condition. 
I experienced my drooping eyelids as not having enough light to see. If I held my eyelid up, there was much more light, but I would have looked funny walking around holding my eyelids up. Same thing with holding them up with duct tape as some people do. I chose surgery, and it took six months from the time I saw the optometrist to the day of surgery.
Becky drove me over to a well-appointed surgery center in Chevy Chase where I was promptly taken back and prepped for surgery. I won’t go into too many details except to say I was given a “twilight sleep” sedation so I could follow commands. It worked: I was awake but didn’t care what happened to me. I had my eyes closed as the surgeon worked and as he finished, he said, “Open your eyes.”
The room seemed flooded with light. “There’s so much light,” I said, and there was, especially since it was an O.R. with O.R. lights. The surgery crew laughed at what I said. 
After a short time in recovery, Becky drove me back home where we arrived about 2 PM. I was to spend the rest of that day and the next flat on my back with frozen peas or lima beans on my eyes to keep down swelling and bruising.
I found it hard to keep still and lie down. Becky kept reminding me, sometimes forcefully, how important it was to do just that. I eventually settled down, and in the next day and a half discovered some things to do while lying on my back unable to see because I have gauze pads and iced vegetables on my eyes. So, here is what I did:
I listened to the radio, particularly news, traffic and weather from the glass-enclosed nerve center of WTOP. Their frequent times checks made it easy to tell when it was time to switch the somewhat thawed peas for a freshly frozen pack.  By the way, it you want to thaw about a quarter pound of peas or lima beans, hold them on your head for about half an hour. That’ll do the trick.
I listened to Pandora, the internet music service, grooving (but not too much) to the likes of Dan Fogelberg, Gordon Lightfoot, Art Garfunkel and Jim Croce. I found that I could add percussion by tapping on the wall as well.
I listened to several televised baseball games and finally switched to radio broadcasts where the descriptions were more complete.
I did some gentle yoga exercises to keep from getting stiff from lying around.
And I talked on the telephone with anyone who called, except for solicitors.
I was able to get up to go to the bathroom and eat, and then promptly go back and lie down with my iced eyeballs. 
I decided after trying to make my way around the upper floor where I am familiar with what’s there that I would not make a good blind person. I kept running into things and was afraid of falling down the stairs and setting back my recovery. Vision is truly a gift. I did try playing guitar, thinking that some famous musicians like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Doc Watson and Blind Lemon Jefferson were blind. I could barely play my guitar by holding it on my chest but I didn’t find songs by these artists such as “Deep River Blues” and “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” much help in healing. I gave that up very quickly.
With my eyelids lifted, I have more light coming into my pupils. With more light, I also see details better. I also gained 30 additional degrees of upward peripheral vision through this procedure. I hadn’t thought about this until I was walking into the church Monday afternoon after the procedure and I thought, hey! there’s a whole sky—a whole heaven up there and I don’t even have to raise my head to see it.
In sum, the surgery wasn’t difficult or painful, although the recovery took some doing, the results were worth it. My doctor was Paul Gavaris of Washington and Tysons Corner, and if you need this sort of thing done, I recommend him highly. Let there be light for everyone!

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The Continuing No Shame Poetry Series Presents "Sticks and Stones"

Sticks and Stones

We always have sticks in our yard

because we have a lot of trees.
Now there’s a cause and effect for you:
Trees produce sticks, especially when it’s windy
Like it was today.
And I know, I should have been an arborist
My knowledge of trees and their by-products is
So profound. So much for maple syrup and
Pine boards and willow bark for headaches:
give me a good stick
On the ground
And I’ll pick it up.
I am always picking them up
because
Trees produce sticks.

Stones (on the other hand) were
Produced by glaciers in this part
Of the country. The glaciers covered
This area to a depth of about a million miles
Or something like that. (Do I look like a
Paleogeologist?) It was a lot of ice
In any case,
And when the planet warmed
(as it seems to be doing now)
The glaciers were gracious in defeat
And retreated north gradually, at less
Than a walking pace, I’m told,Although I would not want to pace a glacier.
I’d rather watch paint dry
Which is fun you shouldn’t knock unless
You’ve tried it.

But anyhow, the glaciers ground up
Great big old boulders and rocks and
Made them into little stones
But they didn’t pick up after themselves
(Because they have no hands, dummy),
And that’s why there are rocks everywhere
Around here, just waiting to jump up into
A lawnmower blade and be flung into someone’s
Car windshield and break it
Or lie right below where I am digging a nice hole
With a shovel and trying not to pierce a gas line
And blow the neighborhood up.
When shovel hits rock the shovel handle vibrates and
Jars my teeth. (I prefer my teeth in my mouth, not in jars.
How about you?)

Of the two, sticks and stones, I prefer sticks to stones.
Sticks you can throw or make a nice archery set
And play Hunger Games with your friends.
Stones pretty much sit there like a stone
(I know, so funny of me!)
Unless they are thrown which you should not do,Especially if you live in a glass house
(Just imagine cleaning all that glass twice a year
Or when company comes!)

And so, although sticks and stones may break my bones,
It was a notebook filled with words that hurt
Me when I caught my little toe on my right foot
And broke it.

Watch out for notebooks, kids,
And watch out for words.

They can do the real hurt.

–Dan Verner

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Advice for Writers: Shopping and Writing

Now, I am not writing here about my shopping practices, which, like many men, are practically non-existent. I know what I want and if I can’t get it online, I go to the store, get what I want, pay for it, and go home. I don’t like big shopping expeditions, nor do I engage in “recreational shopping.” I leave that to my wife Becky, who is very good at it and who has in fact paid pennies on the dollar for too many items to count. So, I am in fact writing about a fortuitous confluence of writing and shopping which in fact came together in the last couple of days, in a way I didn’t expect.

Our adult handbell group at church, the Evensong Bells, gathered at Bruton Parish Church in Colonial Williamsburg to play about an hour program as part of the church’s Candlight Concert series, attended by tourists and locals alike. We played about nine pieces and Becky contributed a couple of nice organ solos. The church was fairly full and we played well (except for about 20 mistakes on my part–I rattle easily playing in front of people) and enjoyed the last program of the bell season. We packed up and went our separate ways.

Becky and I have evolved a system for trips to Williamsburg over the past 38 years since we first came on our honeymoon. It starts with the drive down. She likes to drive and is a fast driver so she does that. I like to navigate with my maps, Google driving directions, GPS and most recently my Navigator on my cell phone. I like to have backups.

Once we’re in Williamsburg, there are certain places Becky likes to hit to shop. Heretofore, for each shopping venue, we would arrange a time to meet and go our separate ways. She shopped, and I usually found a bookstore, browsed, read magazines, maybe had  some coffee and something to eat. Barnes and Noble in Merchants Square at Williamsburg is a fantastic place to do this. But this time, I took my laptop with me and thought, I can get in a few hours writing. And I did. I did about three days’ work on my novel in two days–six first/second draft pages. It ain’t much, but I write slowly. I’m used to writing short 650-1000 word pieces, doing them completely and then revising from ten to fifty times before sending them off. The novel, I don’t know. I have a sense I want to throw it down, fiddle with the wording some, finish that and then start going through it. I am counting on a first draft taking about six months and the revisions about as long.

So, the point is that one can write any time, anywhere, under a variety of circumstances. I was never one for studying or writing in a public place, but this worked well. I might start hanging out at coffee houses with my laptop. Other people provide something to look at while I’m puzzling over a turn of phrase. And when it’s time to go to Williamsburg again, it will be time for shopping and writing. 

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Technology and Society–Science Fiction and the Final Frontier

My favorite movie (before Forrest Gump came out) was Stanley Kubrik’s 2001: A Space Odyssey  which came out in 1968. I had been a big reader of science fiction since I would read, devouring short stories and novels by the likes of Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, later on, Vonnegut and Adams.  The film showed a not-too-distant future with a Pan Am shuttle up to a “Millenium Hilton” hotel on a space station. I went to see it with some friends at the Uptown Theater in Washington and we spent most of the time afterward discussing the significance of the monolith. (No clue!) We more or less took for granted that private commercial access to space would be routine 33 years later and we would have a colony on the moon and cool interplanetary spaceships and malevolent sentient computers (“Stop it, Dave, you’re hurting me…”).
Well, of course it didn’t work out that way, and all the sci-fi imaginings seemed to fall short of the reality. Human space travel was hard, darn it, and far too expensive for anyone except for a  couple of super powers. We went to the moon and haven’t been back since the end of the Apollo program, operated the space shuttle, which gave access to low earth orbit, but not as routinely as we thought, and built an International Space Station. All these were technological achievements of the first order, but they weren’t Pam Am shuttles to Hilton hotels in orbit.
Somewhere about 1980 I stopped thinking of science fiction as having predictive value and started thinking of it as present social criticism, as with the likes of Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five and Asimov’s I, Robot, or Philip K. Dick’s short story, “Minority Report,” which was made into a chilling movie by the same name. If I had thought more about it, I would have realized that sci fi had been predicting the technological future for quite a while.
Arthur C. Clarke wrote about a system of synchronous communications satellites in 1948. The original Star Trek communicators look like nothing more than flip cell phones. GPS devices, routine travel by jet aircraft, materials such as Teflon and carbon fiber used in the construction of the Boeing 787, and the advent stealth aircraft, all were impossible imaginings in the 1950’s, in many ways the golden age of sci fi. 
I was enthralled by the Walt Disney version of the moon rocket (which in one iteration was a TWA craft) and while it didn’t work out exactly the way they showed it, we did get to the moon. And we did put up a space station. It isn’t doughnut shaped and music doesn’t play while it orbits, but it’s been up there since the first part was orbited in 1998.
Recently, Popular Mechanics and Smithsonian magazines had feature issues about the predictive value of science fiction. And last week’s New Yorker was a science fiction issue. Talk about things I thought would never happen—there’s one for you.
Last week, the Space X Company launched a Dragon supply ship to the ISS, the first time a private company had done that. And so, in a sense, Kubrick’s vision of space travel by private companies is closer than it was. There’s to be a manned Dragon launch to shuttle astronauts to the ISS. And so, there are predictions found in science fiction coming true. I can hardly wait to see what happens next.

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Sticks and Stones and Other Toys

 I came across an article recently about the National Toy Hall of Fame located in Rochester, New York. (Their web site is http://www.museumofplay.org/index.html.) The hall showcases 41 classic toys such as the kite, the bike, Crayola crayons, marbles and Mr. Potato Head. This year the Hall added three new toys to its collection: a skateboard, a baby doll and a stick. That’s right, a perfectly ordinary stick is now in the Toy Hall of Fame. The committee said that the stick was an “all-purpose, no-cost toy” with no rules or instructions for its use.
At first, I thought adding a stick to a collection of classic toys was just plain silly. I mean, compared to Mr. Potato Head, a stick is just a stick.  But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with the Hall of Fame’s choice. Kids today probably don’t play much with sticks, particularly if they live in the suburbs where cutting a stick would result in some sort of trouble. In the country, though, sticks grow on trees (I just had to say that) and I remember playing with them. A lot.
With imagination, a stick could become a pretend gun.  It could also become a sword, although those battles were interrupted at some point by a parent screaming, “Stop playing with those sticks like that—you’ll put an eye out!!” They could be the lance of a knight or a staff for a hiker. Hung between two trees with a tarp thrown over it, a stick could be the basis for a wilderness shelter. Of course, it made a fair baseball bat (or a cricket paddle or bat or whatever they call it, if desperation set in). We also had javelin throws back in the septic field.  It’s a wonder we didn’t spear each other, but God looks out for children.
A good stick was hard to find, actually, particularly when it had to be cut with a hatchet the sharpness of a chunk of cheese.  My parents wanted to be sure we didn’t hew any of our limbs off flailing around in the woods. After what seemed like hours of hacking, we had our sticks. I remember one that I was particularly fond of, a piece of hickory which I decorated with arcane symbols. I didn’t know many arcane symbols so I used the ones from the beginning of the old Ben Casey  television show in which Dr. Zorba drew the appropriate symbols on a chalkboard and intoned “Man, woman, birth, death, infinity.”  It was a great stick which I kept for a while until I left it too close to the woodpile and my father burned it.
I would also nominate the stone for inclusion in the Toy Hall of Fame. (That way they could display sticks and stones.)  We also enjoyed playing with stones.  They could be piled on top of each other to create the walls of a fort or placed across a creek to make a dam. We didn’t go so far as throwing them at each other (we did have a tiny bit of sense) and used dirt clods instead which “exploded” on impact very satisfactorily. A good flat stone is also great for skimming across the surface of a pond. We had competitions to see who could have the most “skips.” We also spent hours striking one stone against another in hopes that one would be flint and create a spark.  Luckily for all involved, we never succeeded.  I also rubbed sticks against each other for hours to try to make a fire with no results. We were not allowed to have matches since our parents knew we would set the landscape on fire.  I did find some matches once and set the ditch in front of our house on fire.  But it was only a small fire which my mother easily put out with the garden hose.
I feel a little sorry for kids today if they depend on video games devices to amuse themselves. It’s so much easier and more fun to find something to play with lying on the ground. It certainly engages the imagination much more. If you do play with sticks and stones, though, be careful. You could put an eye out.

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Day of Thunder, Day of Calm

On Friday, we experienced one of those wild weather days we have around here every once in a while in which the weather forecasters go on the air constantly with radar scans showing intense rainfall and “rotation” within storm cells, meaning a tornado might be imminent. The radio blares that obnoxious sounding tone to announce a forthcoming “special weather statement,” which in this case was a tornado warning for a particular area, with instructions to seek cover immediately. No matter how many times I hear such an announcement, it gets my attention but good.

We must have had about twenty or so weather statements Friday afternoon into early Friday night. We missed the worst of the severe weather, although we did get quite a bit of rain. A complicating factor was the Friday evening was the scheduled performance of the last concert of the concert year for the Manassas Chorale, a group I sing with and that Becky directs. The Chorale was singing the Mozart Requiem for the first part of the concert, while the second half featured a forty-voice children’s “honor chorus,” who joined us on two songs and sang one on their own.

We are somewhat accustomed to having Christmas concerts postponed because of snow, but I don’t think we’ve ever had one threatened by severe ongoing weather. Mercifully, we were able to get the concert in, and I think it went very well.

Mozart’s Requiem, the last piece he started and died before its completion (it was likely finished by his student Sussmayer), is hard. It uses the Latin (and Greek) text of the requiem mass and is musically challenging. I had done it a few years ago, but had to learn it all over again. It came back to me in the three months we worked on it, and I gained a new appreciation for the complexity and beauty of the piece.

Becky had put together an orchestra for the occasion, and they played superbly, as usual. I told one of the strings players that they should just play and we would all listen. By all accounts, the vocals and the instruments were matched in quality. And we had four superb soloists to join us.

The second half, the Chorale did Dan Gawthrop’s “Sing Me to Heaven,” a lovely and meaningful a capella piece and then was joined by the children’s chorus for “What a Wonderful World.” I should say that these young students, recommended by their elementary music teachers, had only three rehearsals and did their songs from memory. They were marvelous and charming. They did a crowd-pleaser by themselves, “Who Says I Can’t Read Music?” and then were joined by the Chorale for the closer, Greg Gilpin’s “Why We Sing.” This song is sometimes hard for the singers to get through because of its sentiments and beauty.

Talking with people who came to the concert afterward in the lobby, many of them said they were glad they braved the storm. I was, too. The Mozart was a challenge, and the songs of the second half were gentle and beautiful. It was a nice closing to a day of thunder.

The day of calm came the next day, Saturday, as all the storms passed and we awakened to a glorious sunny, cool day with low humidity. It was as if the air had been scrubbed free of all impurities.

The local writer’s group I am a part of, Write by the Rails, was having a table (several tables, actually) at the Manassas Railway Festival, held the first Saturday of June for a number of years to celebrate railroads and the heritage of Manassas as a railroad town from the beginning. Last year over 30,000 people from states as far away as Pennsylvania and North Carolina came to the Fest, which features all things related to railroads including vendors and excursion trips to Clifton and back on the commuter rail, Virginia Railway Express. The atmosphere was that of a street fair, with streets closed to traffic and people of all ages thronging the venues. An outdoor stage about half a block away from the writers’ table featured country rock music well done for that style.

I have not said much in Biscuit City about the Write by the Rails group, but I should say that the writers in the group are some of the most talented, kindest, helpful, supportive people I have ever met. We represent all ages and produce all kinds of writing from non-fiction newspaper pieces to novels to memoirs to fantasy to poetry. On this Saturday, six or seven of us sat at our tables not only greeting the public and trying to get our group’s name out there, but also selling books and talking about a variety of subjects among ourselves, both on and off the subject of writing. The types of writing represented today were novel, memoir, science fiction (alternative universe), children’s, poetry, newspaper column and blog (ahem).

The members of Write by the Rails meet to trade ideas and share readings and support each other on Facebook (where the group had its genesis) and by attending each other’s book talks and book signings. They are  involved in a number of community activities and creative projects, including an anthology of members’ writings due out this November. They are people I am proud to know not only as writers but as decent and caring human beings. May our tribe increase!

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